PARIS - Sometimes a company needs new people to help it change itself.
Since Murat Gunak joined Peugeot as head of design in late 1994, some fresh air has blown over the design center in La Garenne Colombes, near Paris. With his youthful and enthusiastic personality, Gunak may be the ideal fellow to rejuvenate the old lion brand.
The 205 successor, due to arrive in spring, will be the first car to wear Gunak's mark. It is expected to have a more aggressive style, more tension in its lines. It will also be a key element in Peugeot's struggle for a new brand image and a more convincing product strategy.
Gunak knows a lot about how to revive an image. As the studio manager at Mercedes-Benz in the early 1990s, he is one of the fathers of the A-class and the SLK roadster.
He likes to compare Peugeot with Mercedes: 'The two companies contributed to the start of the car industry. They are both family-based companies, and they both have a strong brand image in their respective category.'
Gunak's love affair with cars began in Turkey, his homeland. 'In Turkey, everyone dreams of a car. So I dreamed of owning a company which would make cars.'
The dream took a different shape.
After he finished high school in Germany, where he had come with his family in 1973, he started design courses at the Fine Art College in Kassel, Germany.
'I needed to find a six-month internship to complete my course. So I wrote a letter to Mercedes Benz. (Chief Designer) Bruno Sacco himself answered and he took me as a trainee,' Gunak said. 'I've always been lucky in meeting people who helped me a lot.'
After his graduation, he worked for a while for the Opera House in Kassel. Then he learned that Ford would give grants to students for studying at the Royal College of Art in London.
Once again, Gunak took up his quill. He wrote to Claude Lobo, Ford's chief designer. 'He met me and sent me to London.'
In 1983 Ford hired Gunak at the Ford design center in Cologne. He contributed to the Fiesta and Sierra models.
When he joined Mercedes-Benz in 1986, he first worked on interior design. Then he joined the C-class project, where he started as a designer and ended as project manager. Afterward, he became studio manager.
'I learned that Peugeot had a strong will to prepare for the future,' he said.
'People from the Sochaux plant and Christian Peugeot (then general manager of Peugeot Deutschland) played a key part in my coming to Peugeot.'
Obviously, the challenge under way at Peugeot fits Gunak.
'Innovation efforts must be made in every field of the company. Design has a critical part in that process,' he says. 'I went through a similar situation at Mercedes. It has been a huge opportunity to do it again now.'
What does he want for Peugeot? 'To make desirable cars, the ones that people turn and stare at in the street.'
With his voice he underlines the word 'desirable.' Maybe because he remembers that passion and cars have a lot to do with each other.